VATICAN CITY -- He had the trust of Pope Benedict XVI and the cardinals, monsignors and priests who run the Roman Catholic Church. And because of his privileged position as papal butler, he had access to their deepest secrets: confidential letters, memos, financial reports.
From under Pope Benedict's nose, Paolo Gabriele used the photocopier in the small office he shared with the two papal secretaries that adjoined the pope's library, studio and chapel -- and, he says, started copying them all.
At first, he kept the documents to himself. Then he found a journalist he trusted, and the intrigues and injustices he saw around him spread around the world in the gravest Vatican security breach of modern times.
A three-judge Vatican tribunal today will decide whether Mr. Gabriele is guilty of aggravated theft, accused of stealing the pope's private papers and leaking them to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose book, "His Holiness: Pope Benedict XVI's secret papers," became an immediate blockbuster when it was published in May. Mr. Gabriele has pleaded innocent, claiming that he never took original documents, although he said he was guilty of "having betrayed the trust of the Holy Father, whom I love as a son would."
From court documents, trial testimony and the book, the anatomy of the scandal has taken shape: They describe how a 46-year-old father of three -- said by court-ordered psychiatrists to be unstable, desperate for attention and with delusions of grandeur -- came to see himself as inspired by the Holy Spirit to expose Vatican dirty laundry for the sake of saving the church.
They demonstrate how he instigated a Hollywood-like plot to sneak documents out of the Apostolic Palace under cover of darkness to a waiting journalist outside the Vatican walls, who then exposed them on TV and in one of the most talked-about books of 2012.
Mr. Gabriele himself told the court this week that he became increasingly "scandalized" when, as he would serve Pope Benedict his lunch, the pontiff would ask questions about issues he should have been informed about. That suggested to Mr. Gabriele that the pope was being intentionally kept in the dark by his advisers.
Mr. Gabriele told Mr. Nuzzi that he started copying documents sporadically soon after Pope Benedict became pontiff in 2005, and then in earnest in 2010 and 2011, when the No. 2 Vatican administrator began complaining of a smear campaign against him for having uncovered corruption and waste in running the Vatican City state.
In his testimony, Mr. Gabriele almost boasted that he would copy letters in broad daylight, during his 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. shift, while Monsignor Georg Gaenswein and the other papal secretary, Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, were at their desks facing his.
Once home in the Vatican City apartment he shared with his wife and three children, Mr. Gabriele would file the papers away, "hidden" -- police would later say -- in between hundreds of thousands of pages of Internet research on Freemasonry, secret service units, Christianity, Buddhism and yoga. He filled a floor-to-ceiling armoire with the documentation in his study. A dining room cabinet held the rest.
It took 82 moving boxes to cart out all documents four officers found in searching his home May 23, the day Mr. Gabriele was taken into custody. But police said only about 1,000 pages were pertinent to the investigation.
Police and Monsignor Gaenswein have said that -- contrary to the butler's claims -- they also contained original documents, obvious because of seals, stamps and internal processing codes the Vatican uses. Some bore the pope's own handwriting, including the word "destroy" at the top in German, police told the court.
It was Monsignor Gaenswein who found the "gotcha" documents that pointed him to the culprit: three letters reproduced in Mr. Nuzzi's book that he said had never left his office.
Other documents came from other Vatican congregations, so they could have been leaked at any point in the internal mail chain. But these three were addressed to Monsignor Gaenswein: one from Italian TV host Bruno Vespa with a check for (euro) 10,000 and a private papal audience request; another from a Milan banker also containing a check; and an email from the Vatican spokesman that Monsignor Gaenswein had printed out.
Mr. Gabriele has denied to prosecutors taking any originals, insisting he only made copies. And he has denied having ever seen a nugget believed to be gold and a $100,000 check made out to the pope that police said were found in his apartment. In their testimony, police were unable to say exactly where in his study they found those items.
Mr. Nuzzi has all but confirmed Mr. Gabriele was his main source, sending him a good luck tweet at the trial's start and saying in an interview on the eve of the first hearing that he hoped that testimony would "unveil the motives and convictions that compelled Paolo Gabriele to bring to light documents and events described in the book."
Mr. Gabriele faces four years in prison if convicted, but a papal pardon is expected in that event.world